Toby awoke with a start, well before his alarm was due to go off. Tia lay curled next to him on the bed. Her brown hair was spread out on the pillow and she'd kicked one leg out from under the pale sheets. Seeing her like this, it was easy for him to forget the long weeks that she'd been absent from his bed, when he'd allowed himself to become convinced that she would never return.
They'd only reconciled the night before, and she could easily change her mind when she woke up. In the daylight, when they were thinking with clear heads and seeking to take charge of their days rather than merely reacting to the burdens they'd found, she could—she probably would—decide that Toby's ability wasn't something she could cope with after all.
He wouldn't blame her if she did. He knew exactly how hard it was for others to cope with learning that their thoughts weren't private.
Careful not to disturb her, he slipped out of bed and into the kitchen. The early morning sunlight suffused the room, glinting off the pots and pans that hung over the range like a visual windchime. The scents of frying grease and cooking eggs wafted into his loft from the restaurant below and rumbled his stomach.
He started the coffee and concentrated on the chill of the wooden floor against his bare feet while he waited for it to brew. When the first cup finished, he poured it and padded over to the window. Traffic on the corner where he lived varied immensely depending on the time of day. During the early mornings and early evenings, people clogged the streets and sidewalks. The rest of the time, the traffic thinned out to almost nothing.
Toby enjoyed both variants. Each person had her own observations and perspectives, worries and agendas. He knew that. But sometimes his work with the IIB, dealing with humanity's worst crimes and most heartless criminals brought him the need to dive in and remember how real people were.
The thoughts of the people passing in the street below washed over Toby like a warm shower. With his eyes closed and his forehead pressed against the cool glass of his loft window, he coasted through the murmuring that was his alone to hear and basked in the normalcy. On the sill his cup of coffee steamed, cooling.
He looks so peaceful, came an interrupting thought. I wonder what he's thinking.
“I'm thinking that people are amazing,” Toby answered. He turned toward Tia, who was standing in his bedroom door, his robe wrapped around her otherwise naked body, and offered a conciliatory smile for answering a question that she hadn't asked. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
Good morning to you, too, she answered, this time deliberately addressing him with her thoughts. “I hope you haven't been up long.” She scrubbed her hands over her face. “Is there coffee?”
Toby gestured to the coffee maker on the counter with the carafe that was missing only the contents of his cup. “Not too long. I promise that you didn't miss anything exciting.”
With a dubious nod, Tia headed over to the counter and prepared her cup. Her steps still lumbered with the weight of a person who was not quite awake and she sighed gratefully over the top of the coffee cup as soon as she lifted it to her lips. “So, what are you looking at?” she asked. Cup in hand, she padded across the kitchen floor and joined Toby at the window. Down below, people thronged past on the their ways to work and school, a steady stream of uniforms and business suits. Through the closed window, only the honking of car horns and the deep rumble of the occasional passing truck came through. Like he had been doing, she pressed her forehead against the window pane and peered down.
“I wasn't looking,” Toby admitted, ruffling a hand through his still sleep-rumpled hair. The sweat pants he'd tugged on brushed across the top of his feet.
Tia understood immediately. “You can read people from all the way up here?” Her brow furrowed, grip around her cup tightening as she tried to calculate what the distance might mean for the strength of his power. He felt the flutter of that idea across a much more clearly formed Wow. So, it's really not face reading?
“It's not that far,” Toby replied. His loft occupied the third floor of the building, with the restaurant itself extending through the nominal second floor. His range extended far more than thirty feet when he wanted it to. “You see that guy over there, by the pharmacy?” he asked, pointing across the street to the opposite corner. It was easily thrice the distance than just from his window to street level.
“The guy with the ponytail and the ripped jeans?”
Toby nodded. “He's trying to decide whether to buy cigarettes or nicotine gum.” He paused, smiled. “He's decided to go cold turkey.” The guy abruptly let go of the pharmacy's door handle and strode away, his head held high.
“Wow. That takes a lot of willpower.”
Since she wasn't looking for a response, Toby didn't offer one. He also didn't go back to reading the crowd, choosing instead to observe Tia out of the corner of his eye while she worked through what he'd told her and what it meant for them.
Tia watched the pedestrians for a while, sipping at her coffee while doing so. “It must be incredible to know what people are thinking, deep down. All the secrets they keep to themselves. All the things that could destroy their reputations if anyone discovered them.”
“I wouldn't know,” Toby answered simply. He remembered trying to explain to Oz how his powers worked. “All I get is what people are thinking when they think it. OK, I mean, yeah, people have secrets, but most people don't go around thinking about their secrets unless something's making them. Mostly, the things that you don't want anyone to know about, you start by making yourself the first person who doesn't think about them.”
“So you can't, like, read between the lines?” Tia asked. Her disappointment was palpable. Here she was, an investigative reporter who was dating a person who could actually read minds, and he was telling her that his power would be no help in digging up the dirt?
Toby hid his amusement at her expense behind a long sip of his own beverage. “I can make guesses, sure,” he answered. “But they're just guesses. Sometimes people let on more than they know. Sometimes they know less than they let on.”
“But, it's interesting, right?”
With a shrug, Toby told her the one thing she probably didn't want to hear: “Not usually.”
“What about her?” Tia asked. She pointed to a tall black woman who was dressed in an expensive looking business suit, striding purposefully down the sidewalk with her cellphone pressed to her ear. “She looks like the kind of person who thinks about important things.”
Toby concentrated on her and felt another grin tug at his mouth. “Right now she's arguing with her daughter about whether they're going to make spaghetti or rigatoni for dinner. She and her daughter both have some strong opinions about the thickness of noodles.”
“You can read her daughter, too?” What are the rules? Line of sight? Proximity? Some kind of connection to the person? Is there any way to research this independently?
“Be careful about researching,” Toby said. “There's a lot of wrong information out there, and there's also people who are very interested in finding the right information for the wrong reasons.”
Tia swatted his arm. “I thought you were reading them, not me,” she said.
“You're the most interesting person around,” Toby answered. He set his cup back down and wrapped his arms around her. They were nearly the same height, which made looking her in the eyes the most natural position in the world. Her makeup had rubbed off over the night, leaving her skin more natural looking than he usually saw it. He liked it. “I just got you back; I don't want you to get hurt.”
“I know how to research dangerous information without endangering myself,” she countered, sounding defensive, as she always did when he suggested that he was acting in her best interest. He'd have to learn not to do that, or at least learn how to get better at explaining what he meant. Of course she knew how to do her job. In this case, she just didn't know what he did about the dangers of what she would be digging into.
“I don't want you to get me hurt, either,” he added, softer. If appeals to her safety wouldn't work, then maybe appeals to his would. “The reason I'm so careful about who I tell about my powers is because there are people out there who have already ruined my life once trying to get ahold of them. If I'm going to have sort of life, I need to stay off their radar.”
“That's awful,” Tia breathed.
Toby nodded. He started to say something else, then turned back to the window abruptly as a thought from down below broke through. He scanned the pedestrians, trying to hone in on where the thought had come from.
“Toby? What is it?”
Holding up a hand to stall her questions, he closed his eyes and skimmed across the minds, searching for the one. And he found it.
I can't do it anymore. This can't keep going on.
Toby mouthed the words as he heard them. The person thinking them was an averaged sized man with a strong nose and dark skin who was standing at the corner, preparing to cross the street. He had a messenger back over one shoulder, khakis and a green polo shirt, and the phrase running on a nearly endless loop through his mind. Can't keep going on. Gotta stop it. Gotta do something.
“Tia, do you see him,” Toby asked, pointing to the man in question. “He's planning something.”
“Something?” She looked startled, and then a spark of interest came into her eye. Though she had no way of knowing what kind of lead she'd been put on, the mere fact that there was enough to finish waking her up. “Something interesting?”
“I don't know. I'm going to follow him and see what else I can find out.”
There wasn't much time. Not even stopping to put on shoes, Toby grabbed his phone and raced down the stairs. Tia started to follow him, but stopped when she realized that she was wearing only his bathrobe. Even her interest in the chase couldn't conduce her to run outside nearly naked.
Toby made it to the street level just as the light turned and the man started across the road. There was no way that Toby could chase him. He knew full well how much garbage ended up in the streets. The number of times he'd had to pick glass out of someone's foot during his time as a paramedic had taught him all the caution on that regard that he needed. Since he couldn't chase bodily or telepathically, he did the next best thing: with the man rapidly drawing farther away, Toby managed to thumb his phone on and capture a few hasty snapshots. Then he turned around and went back inside.
If anyone could use those images to find out more, it was his girlfriend. If necessary, he could probably tap the IIB resources, too. He'd have to do that after hours, though, put Dev on it as a personal favor. There was no telling what the man's thoughts had been in relation to. While they hadn't felt like those of someone planning a murder—and Lord knew that Toby had enough familiarity with murderers and intended murderers to have a basis for comparsion—there were any number of other options, starting with a simple need to get out of a bad relationship. There had, however, been an urgency to the thought.
“He got away,” Toby stated as he reentered the apartment.
“I saw,” Tia answered. “I was watching the whole thing. Did you get any pictures?”
Glancing down at his phone, Toby called up the first picture. For one captured while he was still moving, it was surprisingly clear. “Yes.”
“Did you get anything else? A name, maybe? Perhaps an address or an agenda?”
“No. Nothing like that. Just the picture.” He rolled his lips and mentally played back what he'd seen in his brief contact with the man's thoughts. “Whatever he's going to do, I think he's going to do it soon.”
“So we need to find him,” Tia said, and Toby smiled at seeing the reporter in her come awake when presented with a problem to latch onto. “The big question is, do we try to stop him, or try to help him?”
“I guess it depends on what he wants to do. So, let's get dressed, go downstairs and grab some breakfast, and see what we can figure out.” Toby pulled Tia in for a quick kiss, a promise of how he really wanted to be spending the day with her.
“Definitely,” she promised, only reluctantly pulling away from their reconciliation.
A half hour later, the were showered, dressed, and downstairs.
“This place is packed,” Tia commented, taking in the nearly full restaurant. A thrum of conversations and clanking dishes filled the space, forcing her to lean closer to Toby to make herself heard. “Do you think we'll be able to get a table?”
Toby smiled. “I might know the owner,” he replied, just as the waitress spotted him and waved him at an empty table in the back. “There are perks to living over a restaurant. But don't tell Oz. He'd take advantage of this one if he knew about it.”
“You're just full of secrets, aren't you?” she quipped, no bite behind her words at all. Taking his hand, she led the way through the crowded restaurant. No sooner were they seated than she pulled her laptop out of her bag and booted it up. “So, let's figure out what we know.” She crooked her fingers in a “gimme” hand, demanding his phone.
“Alright, alright.” Toby handed it over and settled back to watch the transformation that came over his girlfriend. While he'd been the target of her investigative inquiry before, he'd never seen it as an outsider before. A flush rose into her cheeks and her teeth creased her lips; he didn't have to read her mind to feel the pure enjoyment radiating from her.
“He was walking, so wherever it was going, it has to be nearby,” she mused. Pulling up a map of the city, she zoomed in on the surrounding blocks. “He was wearing a business suit, so that's going to narrow the likely locations...Isn't it loud in here?” she asked, looking up suddenly.
The restaurant was loud, but not unusually so. A baby cried in a booth near the windows and a nearby family argued over how to split the bill. Toby's brow furrowed in momentary confusion at the question. The steadiness of her gaze gave away what she was really asking, along with the understanding that she was now working on two different puzzles at the same time. He waited until the waitress took their orders and disappeared into the kitchen before answering. “I don't have to listen if I don't want to. Most of the time, I don't want to.”
“For the same reason that I don't sit here and eavesdrop on all the conversations around us,” he answered with a wave of his hand at the fellow diners.
Tia mulled that one over, looking for a moment like she was going to argue the virtues of eavesdropping. Before she could, the omelets arrived.
As the waitress leaned over their table, something about the way her shadow cut through the early morning light that streamed in the windows brought up a flash of pilfered memory. Toby held up a hand, stalling Tia while he sorted through the images. “We need to find a building with lots of windows, taller. Overlooking...” He poked at the memory, finding the landmark the man had seen, but paid no attention to since he saw it every day, and therefore Toby hadn't paid attention to either. “Overlooking a bank.”
“You just got that from him? You know where he is?” Tia reached for her laptop lid as if to close it while starting to stand up, ready to abandon the just-arrived breakfast uneaten.
Toby shook his head. “No. I saw it earlier. I just didn't know what I was looking at.” Tia lowered herself back into seat and forked up a mouthful of eggs, head tilted, encouraging him to keep going. With as many people as he'd explained his powers to over the last few years, most hadn't wanted so much detail; he was rapidly entering unfamiliar territory. “OK, OK. Alright. So, people tune out a lot of what their senses tell them. It's all still there in their thoughts; they're just not paying attention to it, so I don't know to either, unless something else reminds me.”
“That's what happened? You're not holding out on me, are you, Logan?” she asked, gentle teasing in her voice unable to fully disguise her true concern. “You're not going to spring other powers on me? There isn't anything else you're suddenly going to 'remember'?”
“All I can promise is that I'm not holding anything back on purpose,” Toby responded.
Tia regarded him for a moment. Then, nodding, she dove right back into the file. He couldn't see the screen from where he sat opposite her, but he couldn't shake the impression that her notes were about him.
“I'm going to start taking my meds again tonight,” Tia spoke a few minutes later. As if realizing in hindsight how her declaration must have sounded, she went stiff. “Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I'm don't want you to think--”
Toby stayed her with a touch on her hand. “I know,” he said. “You need to take care of yourself. I like it that I don't know what you're thinking.”
“Are you sure?”
“If I could let you read my mind, I would,” Toby answered. With a one-shouldered shrug, he dismissed the possibility. “Because I can't, you'll just have to trust me.”
I do trust you, he heard. What she said out loud was a much less loaded, “How about we get back to work.”
“Work,” Toby replied. “Let's find our guy so we can get back to the apartment.”
With that as the incentive, they buckled down. Soon, the omelets were gone, the coffee drained, and the assorted clues gave them a likely direction to point themselves in and a narrow list of targets to search. They headed out.
Only a few blocks walking, scanning their surroundings with all the senses available to them brought them to a likely corner. The man's repeated, Can't do it. Gotta make it stop, found and attracted Toby to him like a clarion call as soon as he'd gotten in range. They found him, pacing around the lobby of the office building in which he worked. His hands were clenched tight at his sides and sweat darkened his armpits. Toby strode past the main doors and came to a stop against the building's wall, where no one on the inside could see him. Tia drew up next to him, craning back to see around the corner.
Probing the man's thoughts, Toby searchied for indication of a weapon or malicious intent, and found only an increasingly strident effort on the man's behalf to get his resolve built for a confrontation ahead. The details of the confrontation were buried, only glimpses of a computer screen intercut with flashes of a person's form backlit in the upper-story window while the man argued with him, gave any hints of the cause of tension. It was enough. Toby pulled out his phone and started punching in a familiar number.
“What are you doing?” Tia hissed in his ear. “We need to get in there--”
Toby shook his head, took a step back to get a clear look up the side of the building at the company's name and the address. “I'm calling Michelle,” he explained, just as the line was picked up. He quickly explained the situation to his partner, promised not to get any more involved than he already was, and hung up. “This one doesn't need me,” he said to Tia. “Michelle's on her way down to talk to him. The IIB will probably get involved, just not our team.”
Tia's eyes lit up. “It sounds like there's a story here.” She, too, noted the company's name and took another peek through the plate glass window at the person who'd brought them so far, matching him against her mental roster of big corporate names in the city. Toby didn't mean to pick up the thought, so he pretended that he hadn't overheard anything. “A big story,” she amended, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear and throwing one more peek in the lobby.
“There's definitely a story,” Toby confirmed. “Sometimes you'd never guess what people are thinking.”
Tia bumped him with her shoulder. “Says you.”
“Says me,” he replied. The smile that was trying to twitch at the corners of his mouth dropped away for a second at the thought of what his gift had revealed about people, and how many relationships had been sacrificed to it. Tia seemed to be one of the few people capable of carrying that knowledge.
“You know, this wasn't the morning after I was expecting,” Tia commented. “I thought we'd do a lot more talking and making up, and a lot less running around the city. Not that I mind chasing leads on what's supposed to be my day off.” She graced him with a small smile that quelled the worst of his doubts. “If this is what life is like for the people Toby Logan lets in, then I'm looking forward to being part of it.”